Storage Is Key to Hawaii’s Energy Independence By Representative Cynthia Thielen

civil_beat_logoOctober 27, 2014

But HECO has been slow to move forward, preventing residents from reducing their monthly utility bills.

 The Energy Storage North America (ESNA) Expo and Conference in San Jose was the largest gathering of energy storage leaders, government officials and utilities addressing grid-connected energy storage.  I was one of the invited keynote panelists, along with PUC Commissioner Lorraine Akiba, Hawaiian Electric VP Colton Ching, and moderator, Leslie Cole Brooks, Executive Director of Hawaii Solar Energy Association.  The room was filled as we discussed the role of energy storage in achieving Hawaii’s Clean Energy Initiative.

The first point to make is that energy storage is a mature, commercially available technology in use nationally and internationally.  Check out Germany to see how its leading this revolution.

The second point to make is that Hawaiian Electric Company (HECO) has known about this technology for some time and only recently put out a request for energy storage proposals.

Courtesy: Island Pacific Energy

solar battery storage

Solar battery storage units

As I explained to the 1,500 plus ESNA attendees, HECO halted all photovoltaic (PV) hook-ups on Oahu a year ago, leaving 4,500 residential customers stranded.  With the federal tax credit expiring the end of 2016, and an additional thousands of residents also wanting to install PV before that deadline, HECO has prevented our local families from taking control over their energy production and reducing monthly utility bills.

Setting a roadmap for Hawaii, the state of California through AB 2514 created energy storage targets, a step yet to be enacted by the Hawaii Legislature.  (SB 2932 stalled in Conference Committee.  The bill would have established energy storage portfolio standards.)

HECO’s moratorium on PV and its delay in integrating available energy storage shows the company still relies upon its antiquated roadmap which uses the Model-T instead of the Tesla.  Using the most fossil fuel of any state, importing this oil from foreign countries and exporting billions out of Hawaii’s economy, is an outmoded, ill-conceived corporate plan that needs to change.

ESNA did provide hope for the 4,500 and counting families in the HECO queue and shows a sound course for the future.  Energy storage provides an immediate solution to HECO’s grid stability, allowing it to accept more renewable energy power.  HECO can, if willing, integrate storage, and partner with residents as they obtain power from Hawaii’s natural resources.

Another immediate solution is for HECO to honor its commitment made at the recent Legislative hearing and let residential customers hook up PV systems  in “three weeks” as promised by Jim Alberts, Executive  VP, if these systems do not export power to the grid.

In the alternative, residential-sized battery systems, about the size of a broom closet, coupled with PV even now can deliver and store adequate power for homes, enabling residents to leave HECO and the grid.  Battery storage and PV companies together will be able to empower residents to switch their energy production into the hands of their household at more affordable cost.

This day is coming faster than HECO anticipates.  The global investment bank, HSBC, states in its analysis —Energy Storage, Power to the People:  “conventional energy generators will be the biggest losers from the upcoming energy storage boom….”  Instead of depending on HECO’s century old telephone-pole electric grid to deliver power to homes, local families will shortly be able to install stand-alone affordable battery storage systems with their PV and reduce costs in the process.

HECO either can choose the Tesla model or cling to its century old fossil fuel plan.  Its decision will determine if the utility can survive.

About the Author

 headshot dec 2011

Cynthia Thielen

Rep. Cynthia Thielen is Ranking Member on the Judiciary, Energy and Environmental Protection, and the Water, Land and Ocean Resources Committees, and serves on the Committees for Housing and Consumer Protection and Commerce. In her 20th year in the Legislature, Rep. Thielen sponsors bills to protect Hawaii’s environment and to improve the quality of life for Hawaii’s women and children. She is a tireless advocate for the implementation of wave energy in Hawaii, and recently co-sponsored legislation which enables the state to aggressively pursue the goals set forth in the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. She is a member of the Women’s, Keiki, and Kupuna Caucuses.

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